August 14, 2013

Relational Matters

Like many, I’m starting to transition from the fun and frivolity of summer to the necessary stuff that goes into gearing up for the so-called program year.

This past week, though, my sister and her family were in town. It was as we always say it was, looking back, and always hope it will be: like picking up where we left off, the relationships already long-formed and the love so foundationally constructed.

That’s what I miss most of all when the experience of time together turns to a memory of things passed. I miss the physical presence which confirms that there is, in fact, a lasting connection; the “outward and visible sign” of an “inward and spiritual grace,” to borrow sacramental language.

Relationships matter. Knowing one another and developing love, trust, honesty, laughter, and back-stories matter. That’s always good to remember, and it’s a necessary reminder when we start strategizing and planning for the program year and all the busy-ness and business that comes along with it.

This truth came to me, again, as we wrapped up the second year of our newly-formed diocesan summer camp. Last year, some of us gathered around a dream – to create a summer camp for the kids of our diocese and, we hoped, an experience that would help transform the rest of our diocesan life together. Last year, however, we didn’t know each other; many of us had never worked together before. More, we all brought to the table diverse prior camp and youth ministry expectations and experiences, even as we were trying to build something new together. Year one was good. Year two was even better. The difference was that we already started to build relationships. We already started to learn about and from one another. That changes everything.

Time and again, I return to one adage from the world of congregational development. Kennon Callahan (The Twelve Keys of an Effective Church) makes the point that there are relational and functional aspects to church life, and that it’s important to keep them distinct in our thinking. Attending to functional things like paving the parking lot or updating the restroom facilities will decrease dissatisfaction, Callahan says. But decreasing dissatisfaction does not increase satisfaction. Dealing with relational things such as pastoral care and Christian formation is the only way to increase satisfaction. The key is to do both; to strike some balance.

The challenge in the course of the year, though, is that there are whole seasons of relational events and other months of sustained attention to functional things. Here, I’m thinking of stewardship drives and annual meetings. I wonder how we can continue to balance those necessary functional elements of church life with relational vigor. I suppose I’ll be wondering about this and, along the way, seeking that same balance for years and years to come.